Have you ever started reading a fiction book only to find that details in the story were inaccurate? Maybe the story was set in a city in which you were very familiar and listed places or streets that you knew were not real. Perhaps the story referred to a building or period in history that were very familiar to you, so that you immediately recognized details that were inaccurate.
A great story can be easily marred when you don't take the time to make sure your details are accurate. This is especially important at the beginning of your story as you lay the groundwork and build trust with your reader.
Effective introductory chapters make use of specific details. It is also what sets apart a publishable manuscript that can gain an editor's attention with one that may have a good story line, but in the end receives the all too common turn down "this doesn't quite fit what we are looking for."
Adding specific details make your characters real and anchor your story in reality:
The bland sentence, "Blake was an athlete," becomes:
The 275 pound super senior was at the top end of the weight category for a quarterback, but it hadn't slowed him down an inch. Solid muscle, Blake Carrington was also the fastest quarterback in the Lexington Public Schools 6-A league. He wasn't afraid to run the ball straight up the middle when his offensive linemen couldn't get open. He also wasn't afraid of the future. Already college scouts were lining up to make their pitch. He was, however, afraid of Joe--the man whose DNA ran through his veins. The man he refused to call "Dad'.
Always make your setting a part of the story. Don't tell me the story took place in the living room of Sean's house in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Many novice writers use their first chapter to set the stage for the reader. Refrain. Please refrain. Instead, allow these details to unfold as part of your story. While you pull the reader in with your first paragraph, release some of the details of your character without force-feeding them to us. Weave them in. Make them stand out. Make us wonder where they will lead us.
For example, "Sean sat on the sofa," becomes:
Sean sat on the top-grain leather sofa and stared out the window absent-mindedly tapping his pencil against the antique coffee table before him. His mug of coffee, still full but now cold, sat beside the letter. The furnishings of the room reflected his eclectic yet expensive taste. Money had never been an issue. The letter, however, was.
3. Implementing Details Wisely
Details are essential, but remember, like any other part of your story insert them wisely. Don't overwhelm us with too many at once. We can't keep them all in our brain until we begin to understand the characters and what is happening. But do insert some early or we won't get to know your characters or story. It's a balancing act.
Be especially cautious using adverbs. They can clutter the picture quickly. -ly words are the lazy man's way of adding detail. Think the story through. Do you need to add that adverb or will we glean it from what you have already shared?
Gleaning for the reader is like a delicious morsel. Regarding important facts in the story, we want to find it and savor it ourselves. We want to relish the fact that we have uncovered something that might be important. Don't spoil the discovery for the reader by laying out the details step-by-step or even telling us whether it is important or not. Let it unfold.
Finally, make sure your details are credible. You build trust with your reader and a potential publisher when you take the time to check out details in your story. When the details are accurate, you gain our trust. When they are inaccurate you earn our disdain...and very possibly lose a reader.